Jul 5, 2008

Tell No One

An epic tale of yank my chain. 
I wonder if our poor film critics watch so much crap that they get overly excited by stuff that just isn't that great. The movie in question is Tell No One, by Guillaume Canet (not to be confused with Laurent Cantet of Human Resources and this year's Palme d'Or winner), a French movie that tries too hard to be American and fails in any nationality, as far as I'm concerned. It is based on an American pulp novel, and I'll be damned if Hollywood is not getting the rights to do a remake as we speak. This may be the first case in history where the end result (explosions and chases included) may actually be an improvement. At least it will certainly be shorter.
Tell No One starts promisingly, and extremely leisurely, as a thriller about a wrongly accused man who is confronted by revelations that come to haunt him from a tragic past. But for a thriller, it is way too long and too obsessed in tying all the knots, which are way too many and too complicated. As much as I like movies in which the audience is kept guessing, after a while I felt I was not only kept guessing but I was being twirled around on an endless revolving chain for the sake of intricate plotting. At the end, one needs the Paris phone book to keep track of who did what to who. It's all very clever, but it almost seems like an empty exercise in genre. I say almost because some of it is quite good. The acting is mostly superb, particularly by the character actors, a who is who of French actors. I enjoyed Kristin Scott Thomas immensely, and Jean Rochefort, and François Berleand and Nathalie Baye (no botox, people, and looking fabulous). But the main hero, François Cluzet, a taller, Gallic Dustin Hoffman, although a very good actor, seems to have no discernible character. Is he supposed to be an Everyman? Perhaps, but how boring. An interesting point of the movie is, do you really know who you love? Do you really think you know your spouse? Do you even know your life? This poor man's convictions are sorely tested, but one never really feels that he could be hiding something himself. It would have been more interesting if he had motives or ambiguities, or he wasn't such a saint.
There is one extremely well staged chase scene, where he escapes on foot and the climax is a thrilling, masterfully executed action sequence. I also liked the fact that this nice man, a pediatrician who works for the state, is connected to all the layers of French society, from street hoodlum patients to his well connected wife, and both are related by family or community to bureaucrats, aristocrats, entrepeneurs, the police and the dispossessed. So in the course of his ordeal we see the gamut of a society where, like everywhere else, the rich get away with murder because they can, there may be plenty of liberté, but not much fraternité and much less egalité.
This kind of thriller is contrived by nature. People in real life who are wrongly accused usually end up in death row without the luxury of chase scenes or glamorous games of cat and mouse. Therefore, in order to be more meaningful, the plot movers, the characters, should have lots of intriguing personality. Otherwise they are like levers that are there to keep the plot machinery going. The third act of Tell No One is an endless, unwieldy exposition of what indeed happened. It feels like you've been taken for a ride, you've been slightly toyed with. At almost three hours long, it's rather Proustian if only in length, and quite exhausting, yet without the richly observed personal detail that would have made it far more crisp and enjoyable. It's all very smart, but it lacks major bite.
But this is the power of gushing reviews: sold out on a holiday weekend. You could certainly do much worse than Tell No One, but I expected much better.

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